"It might be suggested the ability of the allies to pay tribute is the strength of Athens" (The Old Oligarch, I, 15). Indeed. It is this characteristic in particular of the Delian League that leads it to be rightfully called the Athenian Empire. If each state had maintained its own fleet, and sent it to join the League in its expeditions, they would have held on to a significant measure of independence. Instead, a critically large enough portion of the league members abdicated control over their own military (by their own choice or by force) and simply paid cash to Athens, giving that city the ability to maintain an empire through the use of military might.
The effects of this go far beyond the imbalance of military power between Athens and her tributaries, however. The Old Oligarch lists four main areas where the existence of the Empire benefits the common people of Athens, thus giving impetus to radicalize democracy and justify the expansion and strengthening of the Empire, and giving is reason to find an ongoing justification for its existence. The first is the building of the disproportionately large Athenian navy. Second is the overall flattening of the Athenian social pyramid, raising the relative status of the lowest classes of society, and exemplified by the way that Athens becomes a magnet for aliens to live and work, and gives unusual freedom and opportunity to slaves. Third is that the allies are compelled to have their court cases tried in Athenian courts, bringing both prestige and financial reward to Athens. Finally, the centralizing effect of these things, and the obvious maritime nature of the Empire, make Athens a trading center, m...
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...e markets of Athens. Economically, Athens becomes the clearinghouse of Hellas, attracting artisans and merchants of all kinds, and fostering business of all descriptions to flourish. This translates into the power to dictate to the suppliers of commodities within the trading network. Where at first it is simply Athenian military might that must be obeyed, now her economic might can be felt as well across the seas, dictating what may be produced and to whom it is sold, at what price and in what quantity.
This adds up to cosmopolitanism: Athens is world class city, with, as the old guy grumbles, every known language audible to the Athenians, making their speech "a hotch-potch of all those Greeks and foreigners..." (II, 8). These are the ingredients for both wealth and humanistic triumph, and a setting in which anything is possible, for good or ill.
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